Robert E. Lee, who was considered to be the greatest soldier fighting for the Confederate States of America, descended from a long line of famous heroes. Many of Lee’s ancestors played important roles in America’s history. His father was a Revolutionary War hero and a friend of George Washington. He was often referred to as “Light Horse Harry” Lee.
Lee was born on January 19, 1807 in Stratford, Virginia. Lee always admired Washington, and was his hero as a youngster. Young Lee decided to become a soldier, partly because of the military tradition of his family. Lee enrolled in West Point Military Academy and graduated 2nd in his class in 1829. Lee majored in military engineering and supervised several army projects, he was named Second Lieutenant in the Corp engineers. His devotion and hard work in supervising harbor improvements in Saint Louis got him promoted to Captain in 1838.
As a captain, his first experience in actual battle was in the Mexican War. He served under General Winfield Scott, and was the best engineer in General Scott’s campaign. Lee’s actions at the battles of Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, and Chapultepec received many high praises and earned him a reputation. General Scott claimed that the success of the war was due to Lee’s bravery and skills, Lee was appointed the rank of Colonel.
In 1582 he was appointed superintendent of West Point Military Academy. Under his service, James B. McPherson, Phillip Sheridan, and John Bell Hood would graduate from the academy, soon to be famous. Lee finished his duty as the superintendent in 1855, and served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Second Cavalry, stationed in Texas.
In 1859, while serving in Texas, Lee was sent to command a group of Marines to suppress John Brown’s uprising. John Brown was a northern abolitionist would believed a rebellion in the south would lead to abolition. He was taken down by Lee’s forces. After suppressing the uprising, Lee was called to Washington is 1861. The succesion movement had begun. Some southern states had left, but Lee’s own Virginia was still uncertain.
As much as Lee had supported the Union, he couldn’t bear the sight of union soldiers invading and destroying his hometown. Lee had thought over this matter for days, and finally decided to resign from the union forces and offer his help to the confederacy. When Lee reached Richmond, Virginia had succeeded and they had appointed Lee commander of Virginia Military forces.
When Virginia joined the confederacy, the capital was set at Richmond, and they took over all the forces Lee controlled. Although Lee was a full colonel, he had no troops. Finally the confederacy’s president, Jefferson Davis, sent him to stop Union foces coming in from Western Virginia. He failed and was reassigned to building coastal fortifications in South Carolina and Georgia.
Lee was called back to Richmond in 1862 and appointed by president Jefferson Davis to be the chief commander of all Confederate forces. Although his name sounded powerful, it was actually very pathetic. President Davis took the matters into his own hands, and only allowed Lee to interfere in small decisions of the war. Soon after Lee was appointed, a large Union force had approached the gates of Richmond, and he was sent to stop the penetration of union forces.
Lee arrived in Richmond in June of 1862. The Union army was under the command of General McClellan, and was only a few miles away from the city along the Chickhominy River. Lee had decided to destroy the smaller group of union forces guarding the north side of the river, and push the rest back from there. Lee also took a great risk by only leaving a small portion of his army guarding the gates of the city. Anyway, Lee was successful in pushing the union forces back 25 miles in the next 7 days.
The union government retreated General McClellan’s forces back up to Northern Virginia where they will regroup with General Pope’s forces. Lee, receiving word of this plan, hurried his forces to meet pope before McClellan. Again, he took the risk of only leaving a small force behind to guard the city. He was successful in crushing Pope’s forces. Lee had pushed Pope’s forces back to Washington, and had decided to invade the state of Maryland. McClellan moved his forces to meet Lee, and the two forces clashed in the battle of Antietam. McClellan attacked Lee but failed to break his lines, and Lee realizing the shortage of supplies, retreated to a defensive position behind the Rappahannock river. In December of 1862, Ambrose E. Burnside, led the union forces and attacked Lee. Lee led a terrifying response which resulted in a major Confederate victory.
In the spring of 1863, Lee sent Stonewall Jackson to attacked the union forces from the right while Lee led a frontal attack. Lee wanted to divide the union forces into two and destroy them at Chancellorsville, he did so and gave the south another major victory. But the remaining union forces managed to withdraw across the river. After Chancellorsville, Lee began an offensive movement, hoping to win the war. He decided to invade Pennsylvania. Lee moved his forces up and was confronted by union forces at Gettysburg in s three day battle. Lee threw strong attacks at the union forces, but was repulsed with heavy losses. The battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle ever fought in North America. He was criticized for attempting an impossible battle, the union forces had and advantageous position and more men.
After Gettysburg, Lee retreated back to Virginia for the rest of the war. With the loss of more and more soldiers, Lee had no choice but to start taking a defensive position. In the spring of 1864, General Ulysses Grant got control of the union forces and decided to bring Lee into northern Virginia and crush the confederate forces there. Grant rushed to Petersburg, hoping to seize the railroad the was supplying Lee with supplies. Lee had arrived first and Grant started a siege. In 1865, Grant finally seized control of the railroads and lee retreated to the west. Lee, realizing his loss of men, met Grant at Appomattox and surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.
After the war, Lee was considered a hero of the south, with dignity he accepted his defeat and preached to his people the necessity of peace and national unity. He later became the principal of Washington college at Lexington. He died on October 12, 1870.